I’ve been working in downtown Oakland for going on 10 years now and I thought I’d list a few tried and true lunch favorites that I’ve returned to over and over throughout the years. Some of these are smallish family run places that seem to be suffering in the current economic climate so I figured I’d do my part to get the word out.
I’ve had each of these items at least 10 times over the years (and in some cases significantly more than that) and they never fail to impress. (I almost always eat at my desk, so I’m judging these as take out items.)
Juanita’s (1734 Webster Street, between 15th St & 17th St) – Steak Burrito with Black beans. This item as served for takeout is no longer on the menu (it used to be on a whiteboard near the cash register) but they will still make it.
Comment: the shredded Ice Berg lettuce is a little out of place but the steak is unfailingly tender and flavorful, the black beans perfect and the green salsa satisfyingly spicy
Café 817 (817 Washington Street) www.caffe817.com – White Bean and Tuna Salad
Café 817 – Trio Salad [usually A) white beans, B) arugula, C) shaved fennel]
Comment: the lemon vinaigrette at Café 817 is a small wonder. I’ve tried to recreate it at home but lack the alchemy. Sometimes if a salad is too lite a meal I’ll go next door to Ratto’s while they make the salad and augment with the small pre-wrapped cheese samples and lavash crackers sold by the cash register. (Buying a ciabatta roll from Ratto’s and creating your own white bean, arugula, fennel, and havarti sandwich can be rewarding but should only be attempted by the most experienced workplace eater)
Cervantes (320 17th St, between Harrison St & Webster St) - Chicken (dark meat) sandwich on a toasted hard roll with extra jalapenos, jack cheese and avocado.
Comment: Their potato salad varies from excellent to entirely satisfactory depending on the day
Cam Huong (920 Webster) – 2 Bahn Mi make a nice meal. 1 Chicken curry, 1 Salmon, extra peppers on both
Comment: I know these are the most “Americanized” Bahn Mi on the menu but I’ve tried them all and these are the ones I return to.
Café Madrid (2001 Broadway) www.cafemadrid.org – Hot Bocadillo (choose any of the following: Pamplona, Soria, Sobrasada, Butifarra) with Manchego cheese, Alioli. Add the wonderful, lemony Boquerones (anchovies) for $1 extra.
Comment: The Rusa salad (Shrimp, potato, carrot, olive) is almost great. I’m pretty sure they use pre-cooked shrimp which brings it a step down. Sometimes, in season, they have small, hot, green peppers (sorry I forget the name), sautéed in oil quickly over high heat served with salt. Awesome.
I like to stretch my legs a bit at lunch, so here are a couple good ones if you don’t mind walking a mile or so.
Chai Thai Noodles (545 B International Blvd) www.chaithainoodle.com/ – Yum Nuer (Steak Salad
)Chai Thai Noodles – Kao Pad Nom - Fried rice with spicy cured pork sausage
Comment: they just changed their menu in the last few weeks adding more low cost lunch items (most based around Spaghetti!) so I hope nothing has fundamentally changed in the kitchen. Most previously off menu specials have now been added to the menu proper.
Jong Ga House (372 Grand Ave, between Ellita Ave & Staten Ave) – Kim Chee Jjige.
Comment: The cold Kimchee soup they serve gratis while you’re waiting for your food is worth the trip alone.)
That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure I’m forgetting something; I reserve the right to append this list. Can anyone else recommend specific items that have become their own personal favorites in the area?
Cam Huong Cafe
920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607
2001 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
817 Washington St, Oakland, CA 94607
Jong Ga House
372 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610
Chai Thai Noodles
545 B International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606